Aquarian Founder James Rensenbrink Passes At 81

James Rensenbrink is a name that I grew up with. From my late teens, The Aquarian was my bible when it came to all things rock and roll. From exciting stories about national and local acts, to want ads promising greatness and fame, there wasn’t an issue that I didn’t read from cover to cover at least five times. James had pretty much moved on from musical editorial by the time I came on the scene, but his reputation as an original commentator who lived and breathed print medium was well established.

And while I never actually could call him a friend (I met the gruff, rough-hewn man many times at clubs throughout the years), his influence and guidance remained with me ever since I was first introduced to this magical and long-lasting publication. The fact that I now work for this historic paper that he launched back in the 1960s is an honor that I’ll never forget.

The Aquarian took chances, reporting on local happenings that other papers often ignored. Rensenbrink was a rebel at heart and participated in no underhanded dealings from the corporate world. The fact that he set the tone and put this paper on a long-term track of survival astounds most I speak to. Hardly a week goes by that I don’t hear, “Wow, The Aquarian is still around?” And I always look at them and say, “Of course it is. Since the 1960s, we have been the owner’s manual for rock, pop, folk, jazz, bluegrass, poetry, politics and more. Where else would you go?”

Rensenbrink liked to call himself an old, working-class hippie, but the fact remains that he was a shrewd business man who unknowingly (or knowingly) set many a career in motion. There have been several writers who have gone on to other great things that got their start at The Aquarian, or benefited from their association with it. Rensenbrink was a wildcard. Like the old oilmen of the 1800s, he set his own course and opened the door for so many that would follow in his footsteps, and I wish I now had the chance to thank him personally.

At the end of the day, every time I put words such as this to print, I’m living in the world that Rensenbrink created. I couldn’t think of a better job. We have been inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame as of 2012, and under the publication guidance of Chris Farinas and Diane Casazza, along with Editor JJ Koczan, the same ethic still gets applied. Freedom and independence will keep this paper going long after many competitors have headed out of the medium. And that’s the win that Rensenbrink would have wanted. James passed away in his sleep on the morning of Nov. 7, 2013.

 

Rosie’s House Concert Extravaganza – Nov. 21 And 24 – Brick, NJ

George and Brenda Wirth have been running their house concert series and putting smiles on the faces of music fans for several years now. From the first 2004 show to the latest featuring the extremely talented Jerzy Jung and Michael Askin, Brenda and George have welcomed people into their homes for an up close and personal experience of music from the best in the independent business. Acts that have graced their “stage” run from the likes of Red Molly, Rod Picott, Amanda Shires and Alex Brumel, to Chris Smith (The Amboys), Abbie Gardner, and so many, many other free-form artists.

The house concert series is called Rosie’s, and is named after the couple’s late pet Border Collie who was also the inspiration of George’s publishing brand of the same name. Loveable and tempered, it’s the perfect memorial and the perfect description of the atmosphere and vibe of these house concerts. Brenda has learned her style of presentation well, culling the best of experiences from seeing other house shows as well as putting on performances at the Asbury Park Lutheran Church space with fellow promoter and house concert aficionado, Cook Smith.

The most endearing quality of these shows is the Wirths’ absolute love of music and their adaptive approach to making everyone feel welcome in this intimate and inviting performance space. Every penny of raised funds goes right to the performers, and the Wirths’ small-town approach just can’t be beat. Along with great musical guests, the Wirths’ soiree also features traditional potluck (I love the meatballs) and lots of BYOB. Their space seats about 60 and there isn’t a bad chair in the house.

This set up brings me to the next group of dates for the Wirths’ house concert continuum. On Nov. 21, Rosie’s will play host to Marshall Chapman.

Chapman is a traditionally inspired artist that caught the performance bug when she was taken to an Elvis Presley concert as a child back in 1957. That experience changed Chapman from a laid-back Southern gal to an embryonic rock and roller. Since that glorious start, Chapman has blazed a songwriting path that very few can claim to have accomplished. She has composed songs for artists such as Joe Cocker, Jimmy Buffett, Emmylou Harris, Jessi Colter, John Hiatt, Olivia Newton-John, Ronnie Milsap, and of course my favorite, Conway Twitty. She also scored high marks with her own release, Jaded Virgin, on Epic Records in 1978, and went on to contribute to other projects, musicals, two self-written books, and much more. Her performance at Rosie’s is one of the two highlights of the month and should not be missed. Ticket information and show times will be available at the end of this article. Needless to say, be there early, as space fills up fast.

Rosie’s second show of the week features another American songwriting troubadour for your viewing and listening pleasures.

Jules Shear needs no introduction to most of our readers, but just in case you haven’t heard of this iconic singer-songwriter, please humor me with your valued time. Shear is probably best known as the artist who wrote “All Through The Night,” the Cyndi Lauper mega-hit off of her debut record, She’s So Unusual. It’s a little known fact that Shear actually wrote this for his own record, titled Watch Dog, but nothing ever materialized. The Cars actually recorded the song first, but did not end up using it, so it was then picked up by Lauper, who changed it to a ballad and ended up scoring a top five position on Billboard’s Top 100.

Not a bad spot for any songwriter to be in, Shear went on to firm up his reputation, writing the hit “If She Knew What She Wants” for The Bangles as well as scoring other Top 100 spots as a performer utilizing his own material.

From his first appearance with The Funky Kings, to his time spent with Jules And The Polar Bears, Reckless Sleepers and Raisins In the Sun, Shear has recorded well over 20 albums and has undoubtedly been featured on more. His compositional collaborations range from Tommy Conwell & The Young Rumblers to writing with ‘Til Tuesday frontperson and ex-girlfriend, Aimee Mann. Shear was also responsible for Alison Moyet’s “Whispering Your Name,” as well as popular projects with Matthew Sweet, which are well documented on Billboard’s upper tiers.

Jules Shear will be appearing at Rosie’s House Concerts on Nov. 24. The quality of these shows restores my faith in both the promoter and the people. Too many negative peripherals are attached to the artist’s performance these days and to me, this is the revolution of bringing things back into focus and remembering why we are all here in the first place. It’s not about VIP posturing or narcissistic scene preening; it’s about organic and friendly performances from the community’s best, without the distractions that make most current ventures into the “rock club” scene an unbearable and forgettable experience.

So please join the gang over at Rosie’s House Concerts for these two intimate nights of home-based music featuring Marshall Chapman on Thursday, Nov. 21, at 6 p.m., and the ignitable Jules Shear on Nov. 24 at 7 p.m. Seating is limited, so contact fast to reserve your seat. Suggested donation for these shows is $20 in advance and $25 at the door (you will still need a reservation).

Please feel free to bring your drink of choice and a potluck dish, appetizer or dessert to share between sets. Of special note, a vegetarian dish would be very appreciated at the Jules Shear show.

For information on tickets, please visit the Facebook page at Rosie’s Café Concerts or email Brenda directly at rosies_cafe@comcast.net.

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